No or Low Search Volume Keywords: Yes, You Still Want to Target Them

12 min read
SEO/Content Marketing
By: Sarah Newsome

It’s pretty common to think high search volume, low-competition keywords are the way to go.

After all, these keywords are popular for a reason. They have a large monthly search volume and cover topics that readers are genuinely interested in. So, why would people even bother with low search volume keywords?

For some users, low- or even zero-volume keywords could be relevant to your niche. Or you might find they help you reach more targeted traffic, especially if you’re going after commercial intent keywords. Targeting commercial keywords is further down in the sales funnel, and you’ll naturally be focusing on a smaller audience because of that.

Targeting these low-volume keywords also opens up a huge world of possibilities. According to 2021 Ahrefs data, 94.74% of all keywords have 10 or fewer monthly searches, so we’re talking about a huge chunk of traffic here.

Let’s go over why low search volume keywords can help with your chance of ranking and conversion rate and figure out how to pick the best long-tail keywords for your website.

Why There Are Zero or Low Search Volume Keywords

There’s no one reason why a search term is “low traffic.” Here are a few explanations for why low search volume keywords exist.

Flaws in Keyword Research Tools

While it’s tempting to think that the search engine optimization (SEO) tools you rely on for digital marketing have all the answers, even the best tools aren’t perfect.

Luckily, most tools acknowledge their limitations. Ahrefs pointed out in an article on zero-volume keywords that Ahrefs’ website sometimes ranks for terms that even its own Keyword Explorer flags as being “no volume.” So, while the tool shows no one is searching for these terms, there really is an audience.

We took a look at some of our own metrics and found similar results.

A Semrush screenshot of a low search volume keyword.

In the above Ahrefs data, you’ll see the term “Google helpful content guidelines” has an estimated global search volume of 60, with only 10 monthly searches in the U.S.

But our Google Search Console data showed that in a three-month period, we had 421 impressions for the same term. That’s 140 searches per month, more than double what Ahrefs estimated.

Google Search Console data of a low-search volume keyword.

If we break it down further, showing the performance over 28 days and singling out traffic from the United States, we still have more than double the estimated traffic.

Performance of search data over 28 days in Google Search Console.

The reason for this discrepancy?

SEO tools don’t always reflect real-time updates to keyword search volumes.

So, long story short, as long as the phrases are relevant to your target audience, it sometimes pays to ignore the SEO tools and trust your gut.

New or Trending Search Terms

Another reason a keyword could be low volume is if the term is new. In 2022, Google tweeted out that 15% of all searches have never been searched before, confirming older data on the subject.

Another reason for a sudden jump in traffic? Trending terms. Could you imagine trying to explain to someone what “Barbenheimer” is before the summer of 2023, when this term skyrocketed in Google Search?

Google Trends shows the 90-day history of the search term “Barbenheimer.”

You can cross-reference other changes in keyword popularity with the Google Trends tool.

Obscure Keywords

These are search queries with little traffic — often because they’re incredibly niche or few people are searching for the term. And that low traffic isn’t necessarily “bad,” either.

Some of our clients have niche keywords and changing them would mean they would no longer target the “right” audience. Take this term, for example:

A Semrush screenshot of an obscure keyword.

“What is an employee benefits broker” has an estimated monthly search volume of 20 in the U.S.

That said, we can assume the typical person searching this term is interested in a benefits broker. They may be in the market to switch providers, too. So, targeting this keyword is a good idea for a company that provides this service.

It’s also worth pointing out that these small niches often have some of your most receptive audience members. Unlike a large general target, the nature of these keywords essentially qualifies the searchers for the term you’re targeting already.

Lack of Ad Triggers

Similar to obscure keywords, some keywords don’t really trigger ads.

Most keyword research tools on the market rely on data from Google’s Keyword Planner to find keywords. Terms with transactional and commercial intent often get many bidders, which leads to a higher cost per click (CPC).

However, when few or no bidders are interested in a term, this leads to a “low search volume” status, which is reflected in the SEO tools taking their data from Google.

When this happens, Google may choose to deactivate these keywords. This practice helps advertisers pick better terms to target, but it might do the opposite when you’re only thinking about what keywords to use on your website.

An Ahrefs screenshot of a zero-volume keyword.

Take “expert roundup blog post.” This search term has a CPC of $0, and when searching on Google, it didn’t trigger any ads. That may mean no one is bidding on this particular keyword.

A Google Search screenshot of a zero-volume keyword in action.

This term also might be a bit confusing to Google. If you’re a gardener, you’ll know Roundup is also the name of a popular weed killer, and Google might have inactivated the term to avoid issues with ad intent. Who knows? Google doesn’t often explain why it stops certain campaigns.

Google Search Console data for “expert roundup blog post.”

Despite that keyword having “zero traffic,” our expert roundup article ranks first, has 66 impressions, and has a click-through rate (CTR) of 4.5%. Not bad for a “zero-volume” keyword.

Google Ads Policy Restrictions

A lot of our views on low- and high-volume keywords come from Google Ads policies. The restrictions can affect how keyword search volumes may differ in various conditions or situations. These algorithms have their limitations, though, especially when applied to organic search best practices.

There are also policies in place for certain geographical locations or content. You can’t promote some keywords in specific areas. For example, some Middle Eastern countries don’t allow alcoholic beverage advertisements.

Not all products can be advertised on Google, either. If you’re selling a product that could fall under “prohibited” or “restricted” content, you’ll probably see lower search volume than what’s actually happening in real life.

And no, this doesn’t only mean adult content. Google has restrictions in place on free software, event ticket sales, and even certain local services, like locksmiths.

This usually means advertisers won’t choose that specific keyword, but searchers still exist. These low search volume keywords might not be as easy to find, but there are a lot of benefits to targeting them.

Why You Should Target Zero Search Volume Keywords

We’ve seen there are some legitimate reasons why some keywords may have little search traffic, but you can take advantage of that. Targeting zero search volume keywords is a great way to reach a more specific audience, and while it’s a smaller group, it tends to have a higher conversion rate, as well.

The benefits of targeting these keywords include:

Benefits of targeting low-volume keywords.

Low search volume keywords are often (but not always!) low-competition keywords, too. With less competition, you’re more likely to rank for these terms and break into the top 10 search engine results pages (SERPs).

These low-competition keyword phrases are often longer-tail, more specific terms that are more relevant to buyers, as well. Think “ombre blue yoga mat” (0-10 searches per month) vs. “yoga mat” (215,000 per month).

Ahrefs data shows “yoga mat” has a high search volume and high competition.
Ahrefs data shows “ombre blue yoga mat” has a low search volume but is much less competitive.

While “yoga mat” might have more traffic, if you’re selling an ombre blue yoga mat, you want to target buyers who are looking for that specific product. With the right keywords, you could see your conversion rate go up.

You can also create interest around a new or small niche. If you’re involved in any niche interests, you probably know how selective these users can be. When you optimize a piece of content for a very select group, you won’t reach everyone, but the audience you do connect with will be more receptive.

A 2019 study by the University of Chicago found niche consumption is increasing, too. Many households buy their preferred versions of products instead of trying different kinds every time they go to the store.

What’s more, we don’t have the same superstar products we used to. Instead, the preference for niche goods is leading to new product varieties.

For example, instead of buying regular tortilla chips, many consumers want different styles. This has created new subcategories like gluten-free, scoops, lime-flavored, and organic within what was once a pretty basic category of food.

Keep this trend in mind when you research your next article. By taking advantage of Google’s related search feature, you can find other keywords with similar search intent to include.

This helps you add diversity to your SEO strategy with multiple low search volume keywords. You don’t have to target just one keyword, after all. You can usually go after a few related keywords with the intent to broaden your organic traffic.

You can use tools like Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool to look for keywords, even filtering specifically for terms with low competition. Browse through the related keywords and look for multiple terms that are easy for you to rank for in one piece of content.

While this doesn’t work for all terms, it can help if you’re trying to identify commercial intent keywords.

Finally, commercial and transactional intent can often trigger low search volume keywords. There can often be a big difference in competition and search volume when you add certain phrases to a keyword.

If you add terms like “buying” or “for sale” to a term, you could find new keywords with a lower keyword difficulty that you may be able to rank for more easily.

People searching terms like “ironic coffee mugs for sale” generally have indicated they have commercial intent, so you have a warm audience ready to buy what you’re selling.

When a Low or Zero Search Volume Term Is Worth Ranking for (and When It’s Not)

When you target low search volume keywords, you might feel like you’re going against all the advice on content marketing you’ve ever read. At The Blogsmith, even we tend to focus on high-volume searches in our keyword research process.

In general, we try to find high-volume keywords with low competition for our clients using our multi-step SEO process, and doing this means we are constantly focusing on the minute details of SEO competition. We try to rank for specific terms, learn all the features, and check for diversifying opportunities.

Low search volume keywords can help us remember we’re writing for people, though. These terms might be in that “what do people call this thing, anyway?” category, which you can often find with autocomplete. Think, “what do you call a group of crows?” (A murder.)

A group of crows is called a murder, according to PBS.

These could also be topics your editorial team is really passionate about. Or maybe you got an idea from a sales team member or a customer support ticket, and you find the concept to be something that’s missing from the rest of your content marketing ideas. You could keep a list of some of the most frequent customer requests that come up and go from there.

Even if some of these topics have a low search volume, you know you’ve got a built-in audience.

Similarly, you might be in a business-to-business (B2B) or niche field where thousands of people aren’t searching for your product, and that’s OK, too.

In these cases, optimizing for a zero or low search term will probably do you more good than trying to hit a more high-volume phrase.

How To Use Low or Zero Search Volume Keywords

With all this in mind, let’s look at how to incorporate zero and low search volume keywords into your content.

Focus on Low-Competition Phrases

First, the keyword difficulty must be low, too — don’t go after a high-competition, low-volume phrase.

After all, these terms should be pretty easy for you to rank for. You want to be confident you can easily reach the few people who are looking for the topic and thus convert searchers into paying customers.

To help with that, we recommend reviewing your website’s authority with SEO tools like Ahrefs to check your domain rating (DR) — or domain authority (DA) if you’re using Moz. The Blogsmith also looks at the maximum keyword difficulty a domain can currently rank for, so we don’t choose keywords with a difficulty greater than that maximum.

After a quick review, you should know how you’ll stack up against the competition for SERPs on a given keyword.

Go for Relevant Terms

Don’t go after low- or zero-volume queries that are completely unrelated to your brand or product.

A great example is left-handed products. Adding the phrase “left-handed” to almost any product will immediately cut the market significantly. Only about 10% of us are lucky enough to be lefties, after all.

If you sell left-handed scissors, golf clubs, or can openers, that is a great low-volume term to hit. But if you don’t sell these items, don’t confuse the SERPs in a wasted effort to rank for something that searchers will quickly realize isn’t what they were looking for.

Take Advantage of Commercial Interest

Buying words — like “sales on” and “where to purchase” — add commercial intent and cut the search volume. You’re getting rid of informative or navigational searchers with these additions.

Search terms with commercial intent.

These keywords can work even if people aren’t quite ready to commit to a purchase. Google found 43% of consumers worldwide like to research new brands, even if they aren’t planning to buy right away.

When you target commercial interest, you let consumers know you’re selling a product they’re interested in.

Look for Keywords Your Competitors Aren’t Targeting Yet

This is particularly true for new or trending keywords. If you jump in early, you can start ranking while these terms are still low competition.

But if these ideas gain popularity, you can bet others in your market will begin to target them, too.

Check Out Small Niche Keywords

These might be terms that haven’t gained traction yet. Or these could belong to niches with a small but dedicated user base. Maybe you’re selling an amazing new product that a lot of users haven’t heard about yet.

In cases like these, target keywords related to the problem the product solves, like “software that automates onboarding” vs. specific brand names.

Analyze the Potential Return on Investment (ROI)

When you go after a low search volume keyword, you’ll still want to estimate the cost performance of the piece.

Let’s say you charge new users $15 per month for your software. Your niche is new — maybe you’ve got a new product that uses AI to create email replies by working with a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

Doing a little research, you find the keyword “AI assistant email.” It’s got a low search volume for now, but the CPC is low, and it’s indicating the search intent matches your product really well, too.

Semrush helps you target keywords by checking the traffic of pages ranking on SERPs.

You vetted a marketing agency a few months ago and asked them to write an article targeting this keyword at a cost of $600.

Assuming your SEO tools were accurate, you get 10 clicks in the first month of publishing the article.

If you convert 20% of your traffic to that article each month, it will still take you at least 20 months to earn back that cost from new customers, which doesn’t seem too effective. But that’s only if you don’t take your average customer lifetime value (CLV) into account.

If each prospect who converts stays on as a customer for at least several months, you’ll recoup your costs much faster. The first month, you’d earn $30 in revenue from your two customers. But the next month, you’d earn $60 from four, then $90 from six, and so on. You’ll recoup your costs in only six months if you maintain a loyal customer base.

If your subscription price is higher, you draw in more hits through link building, or the search term starts gaining traction, you can see a faster ROI with this model. You’ll also do better if you plan this out as a long-term strategy, focusing on building a customer base.

Final Thoughts: Low Search Volume Keywords and How To Target Them

Targeting low search volume keywords might seem like a no-win situation, but that’s only when you look at one side of the story.

By remembering the limitations of keyword research tools and search engines, you’ll know you can sometimes gain a significant amount of traffic from “zero-volume searches.”

There are many terms that don’t make financial sense to search engines, so they might want to recommend keywords with a higher search volume (and a higher CPC) to advertisers.

But if you’re looking at these keywords from a content marketing perspective and not as an advertiser, you’ll see there’s still a lot to gain from low-volume terms.

Having trouble finding the best low-competition terms or working out how to work in those low search volume keywords naturally? The Blogsmith offers a host of SEO research and writing services that can help you stand out in the SERPs.

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